Members of the 2006-07 Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee met 21 times between September and March. They paused for a photo at the May meeting. "The people involved all had a good sense of humor," says regents professor and chair Tom Clayton. "There was a lot of laughter at all sorts of points in the course of doing this. It was a serious enterprise but not solemn!"
Tenure policy revised in historic effort
Changes mean more rigor and flexibility
By Gayla Marty
Brief, Dec. 19, 2007
When the Board of Regents approved changes in the faculty tenure policy last June, the University of Minnesota achieved something few other universities have done. In a process led by the faculty, the board endorsed a tenure policy with criteria and standards both more rigorous and more explicit.
It was undoubtedly the top faculty story of 2007 for the University of Minnesota, though the train of governance didn't stop before moving on to the painstaking process of revising a set of procedures to implement the changes to the policy.
"We thought we had it done in June, but it kept coming back to haunt us!" jokes English and classical civilization regents professor Tom Clayton. He chairs the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee--the University Senate workhorse on the endeavor. "We were working on writing the procedures through the summer and into fall semester."
The new "Procedures for Reviewing Candidates for Tenure and/or Promotion: Tenure-Track and Tenured Faculty" went into effect in October.
The basis for the revisions to the faculty tenure policy grew out of the 2005-06 Task Force on Faculty Culture as part of strategic positioning. Those task-force recommendations were passed from the Office of the Senior Vice President and Academic Affairs and Provost to the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee.
"What the University of Minnesota seeks above all in its faculty members is intellectual distinction and academic integrity." --Section 7, general criteria for awarding tenure
In the summer of 2006, Clayton had served three years on what was formerly the tenure subcommittee of the University Senate. Suddenly, he found himself the chair of an expanded committee with a major task.
Academic Freedom and Tenure
-Tom Clayton, CLA, chair
-Arlene Carney, vice provost
-Yusuf Abul-Hajj, Pharmacy
-Tracey Anderson, Morris
-William Doherty, CEHD
-James Farr, CLA
-Joseph Gaugler, Nursing
-Candace Kruttschnitt, CLA
-Karen Miksch, CEHD
-John Mowitt, CLA
-Paul Porter, CFANS
-Terry Simon, IT
-Jianyi Zhang, Medical School
-Gary Engstrand, staff, U Senate
"Really, it took some part of every day and parts of every weekend," Clayton says. "We ate and slept with this as well as wrote it."
In all, the committee met 21 times from September 2006 to March 2007. Minutes were widely dispersed to the faculty across the University, and input was sought throughout the process. It was discussed twice in the Faculty Senate, with comments incorporated into revisions. In large part because of the consultative process, the Faculty Senate voted unanimously, 108-0, to pass the revised code in April.
The committee didn't set out to compare the University with other institutions.
"We thought of the University of Minnesota as an archetypal university," says Clayton. "I think everyone on the committee would see the changes we made as what everyone should do."
Mapping the path for a new generation of faculty
Tenure traditionally takes six years to attain and requires a strong record of scholarship or creative work and teaching. The typical tenure-track faculty member progresses from assistant professor to associate professor, when tenure is acquired, and then to full professor. Tenure assures an academic home for life, barring a significant change in faculty performance according to department and University standards.
The faculty tenure policy has been revised several times over the years. But key changes in the 2007 revisions are significant.
"We used to have a policy about faculty tenure," says Carney. "We now have a policy that maps the path for an extraordinary faculty career, including promotion to the rank of professor. At the same time, we have a policy that points the way for the new generation of faculty, which includes a significant proportion of women."
Among the highlights:
- The section on general criteria now begins, "What the University seeks above all in its faculty members is intellectual distinction and academic integrity." (Section 7.11)
- The policy specifies that candidates for tenure have established, and are likely to continue to develop, a distinguished record of academic achievement...and that achievement should be the foundation for a national or international reputation. The candidate's record must also show promise of his or her achieving promotion to professor. Formerly, the policy required only the potential to contribute to the University's mission of teaching, research, and service, with no mention of future promotion. (Section 7.11)
- To be promoted to full professor, a faculty member must have added substantially to his or her record of achievement and established a national or international reputation, or both, with a primary emphasis on scholarly or other creative achievement and on teaching. The weight of teaching, research, and service varies by campus, but service alone is not sufficient. (Section 9.2)
- Interdisciplinary work, public engagement, international activity and initiatives, attention to questions of diversity, and technology transfer are identified for consideration both in gaining tenure and in advancing to full professor.
- The revised policy adds flexibility in case of faculty illness and injury to existing flexibility for pregnancy or adoption or caregiver responsibilities. It also expands the three-month window to request an extension--also called "stopping the clock" on the normal time granted to achieve tenure--to a window of one year.
Reviewing the changes in advance of approval, the Board of Regents commended the faculty on leadership and ownership of the process. The University's system of shared governance, one regent predicted, will prove to be an advantage in drawing talent.
"We already have a great university," says Clayton. "The tenure code revision enables us to have an even greater university."
"Keeping the best: How the U is changing the climate for new faculty members," from M, fall 2007